DIANA CASTILLO WRITES- On November 5, leading opera artist Shang Changrong and the distinguished film and TV director Teng, presented their opera musical “Cao Cao and Yang Xiu” at LMU, followed by a riveting Q & A. What a duo! Mr. Shang, the protagonist of the film, plays the hero who convinces the emperor to reduce his excessive spending habits and instead focus on the well-being of his people. Mr. Shang is a renowned painted face performer—those who are known for playing lead roles and having strong voices as well as vivid gestures. Mr. Shang started his training formally at age ten. His operas display his passionate acting abilities and fine vocal control.
The film’s director, Mr. Teng, admitted that, in reality, Peking opera is an art form with which few young people are familiar. Still, he feels that the beauty of such a film enables him to expose the world to Chinese culture. Unlike theater, films can be copied, distributed to cinemas, and easily distributed overseas. In film, there are no limits in terms of audience capacity—no sell outs! Another advantage: shooting a film is less demanding than touring a show. Mr. Teng wishes his films to “not only raise interest domestically, but also teach foreigners about Peking Opera”. Finally, he enjoys using the latest technologies, such as 3D and Dolby sound, to make viewers feel as though they are in a theater. He explained that “by including a high-tech and modern touch, audiences can appreciate the beauty of Beijing opera while enjoying the story from their own perspective”. His films also preserve Chinese philosophies that viewers can draw lessons from, like the fundamental, traditional values of accomplishing one’s objectives, staying humble when one is successful and being a team player.
Mr. Shang belongs to a family of actors. He is the “son of Peking Opera master Shang Xiaoyun who is among the “4 great Dan actors” in China”. He started performing more than seven decades ago, at age five, and was actually carried by other people onto the stage since he had to sit on a chair that was too high for him to reach on his own during his performance. The adult Shang added that to become a successful performer is challenging. It requires a lot of training to get the moves and details at the right place but it’s worth it, he says, to receive a warm welcome on stage.
One important note: although opera is an ancient art form, it has adapted itself to classics such as Shakespeare’s King Lear. Why? Because they celebrate humanity, which is ageless.
With China’s large and diverse population, there are 300 opera schools throughout the country. This is no dying art form– Peking opera is ageless and timeless, as these two masters proved in their LMU presentation.